Photo by Geralt, www.pixabay.com

Third Culture Kids: Allegiance to the Flag(s)

This weekend saw many Britons celebrate the 90th (official) birthday of our Queen, lining the Mall in London to watch the Trooping of the Colour (flag) and spilling over into street parties all around the country.

Queens 90th

The Royal family in Britain is variously viewed as anything from a costly despot to a national treasure… and yet events such as the Queen’s birthday continues to mobilize an impressive strength of patriotism throughout the United Kingdom, and indeed its Commonwealth.

Patriotism, in its many guises, can prove problematic for the Third Culture Kid. After all, we weren’t raised in our ‘flag’ countries, and didn’t absorb all the same alliances and cultural signifiers as our passport peers. Perhaps we celebrated the 4th of July alongside Guy Fawkes night in our expatriate communities, or marked two Thanksgivings (Canadian and American), or perhaps all of these celebrations of other worlds just simply passed us by.

How do we experience being French in a majority American expatriate community based in India or Turkey? The ways in which our passport identities develop are necessarily layered in their complexity. After all, our experience of our passport identity abroad will inevitably differ from the ways in which our passport peers experience their national identities growing up in their passport country.

Photo by Geralt, www.pixabay.com
Photo by Geralt, www.pixabay.com

For me, growing up as one of the few Brits in a majority American community, in West Africa, my sense of cultural identity was impacted by multiple influences… 

  • I had a sarcastic, self-depreciating humour that did not always translate (British)
  • People would make assumptions about my liking Marmite, and crumpets (British)
  • I was more familiar (though never competent!) in sports such as basketball and soft ball than netball or rounders (American)
  • I would feel uncomfortable showing above my ankles but perfectly happy wearing wide necked tops that would slip off my shoulder (West African)
  • I was overtly affectionate with friends, and openly exuberant (American)
  • I would get affectionately teased around 4th July, by American friends who were celebrating ‘kicking us out’ (British)
  • I would try to explain that Guy Fawkes was a celebration of a failed attempt to rid ourselves of the ruling classes to confused American classmates, whilst aware of the irony that Britain’s closest equivalent to an Independence Day celebration was more of an Anti-Independence celebration… (British)

When it came to identifying as British, my passport and British parents made this a straightforward identification, and yet I was aware that I was far removed from many of the daily experiences that made one ‘feel’ British. I remember the day that Princess Diana died, and all of Britain was in shock and grieving. My father came off the telephone, and told us solemnly that the Princess had died in an accident. I replied in some confusion, ‘Which Princess?’, to which he responded, ‘Ours!’

For many of the TCKs I have interviewed and now work with, the issue of national identity and belonging remains a source of bafflement. How can we experience passport allegiance whilst still acknowledging the multiple cultural influences on our lives? How can we reconcile ourselves with our passport identities when perhaps we feel more allegiance to another’s flag?

In my experience, both personal and professional, discomfort or even resistance to one’s passport identity unsettles one’s sense of Self, destabilising coherence of life story narrative, and complicating the development of a productive relationship with passport peers. With many of the Third Culture Kids with which I work, the project of integrating cultural Selves is inextricably linked to increasing a sense of belonging. So the question remains, how can we productively engage with belonging to multiple cultural and national ‘flags’?

A recent series has been put together by the BBC World Service on Identity, and it’s worth a listen. There is a particular soundbite (link here) that struck me as being particularly useful in resolving the TCK’s conflicting identifications and challenges of national belonging. In this soundbite, Billy Bragg explores the inherent duality in the British flags. All Brits share the Union Jack – the red, white and blue flag that unites us. And yet, each country united by this flag also has a flag of its own. Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England have their own flags. In this way even within the United Kingdom, we have duality expressed through our allegiance to our flags.

Conceptually this is helpful in that it expresses the ways in which Unity and Difference can co-exist unproblematically. Bragg goes on to suggest the potential of this arrangement for migrants entering the United Kingdom to retain their flag of origin whilst nevertheless adopting the allegiance of their host country. The inherent duality of this arrangement allows for an ease of self-expression in an ever globalising world.

So it may be for the Third Culture Kid. How would it be if we had a TCK Union Jack type flag? A standard around which we could all unite, whilst still being able retain multiple allegiances elsewhere? What if we didn’t have to ‘choose’ one allegiance but could instead celebrate all our individual flags, united under the one TCK banner?

Photo by ClkerFreeVectorImages, www.pixabay.com

Conflicting cultural and national allegiances are difficult issues for many Third Culture Kids and Adults, and Life Story works to get to the crux of these issues to empower a confidence in self-acceptance and self-expression. If you are interested in finding out more, do get in touch here to book a free consultation. I’m looking forward to hearing your story!

2 comments

  1. hannah wiggett says:

    wow that really made me think, makes a lot of sense though i never realized that that’s why i felt so disconnected growing up with things happening at ‘home’

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thanks for the kind comment! National Belonging is so complex, and so much a part of our ‘assumed’ belonging that it can take a bit of unpicking to work out what parts of that identity actually feel ‘real’ to us… Glad it was thought provoking!

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